Connie Chung: ‘The times just aren’t right for network anchors anymore’

By Gail Shister 

Soon-to-be-former ‘CBS Evening News’ anchor Katie Couric will be a smash in syndication, Maury Povich and Connie Chung predict.

“Of everybody, Katie has the best chance, not of replacing Oprah, but of getting Oprah’s audience to give her a good, long look,” says Povich, a syndicated heavyweight for two decades. “She has a great personality for daytime television.”

“She’ll be good. In fact, she’ll be great,” says Chung, co-anchor, with Dan Rather, of ‘CBS Evening News’ from 1993 to ’95, and Povich’s wife. “Even though she’s never done a talk show, I guarantee you she knows how to do an hour.”

Couric’s five-year contract is up June 4. CBS, which reportedly has offered a deal that includes syndication and a continued presence in news, is said to have the inside track.

To Povich, a self-described “scrappy 72,” the key to Couric’s success in syndication will be in her displaying “all her vulnerabilities.”

“You have to say to your audience, ‘Look, we’re imperfect human beings.’ That’s why they can relate to you. Once Katie gets the ‘news anchor’ tag off herself, where she’s inhibited in so many ways, she can just be Katie. That’s all she has to do.”

“Just being Katie” didn’t pry “CBS Evening News” out of third place. Still, that does not mean she’s a failure, according to Chung, 64, who is not unfamiliar with the F-word. Her forced on-air marriage to Rather (left) was, from the beginning, an ugly divorce waiting to happen.

“The times just aren’t right for network anchors anymore,” she says. With Big 3 newscasts hemorrhaging viewers, “what can

one do, male or female? It’s an impossible situation. I feel as if I was in TV news at the most wonderful time, when it was thriving, well-respected, credible.”

In the ultra high-risk world of syndication, “You’re on the diving board by yourself,” says Povich, honored last week by his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, for donating $1 million to establish a fund for journalism programs.

“It’s the biggest crapshoot there is in television. That’s why the graveyard is filled with about 90 TV talk-show hosts since I started 20 years ago.”

One of them might be Anderson Cooper, who will continue at CNN when his daytimer launches in the fall. “He’ll still have the ‘anchorman tag’ in the evening,” Povich says, “and that will be difficult to shake for the daytime audience.”

“Maury” has been renewed through the 2013-14 season. Should Povich end up competing against Couric – expected to debut in Fall 2012 – he says he’s not worried, because they play to different audiences.

His show, which features guest brawls and “Who the Baby Daddy?” segments, is “edgy,” Povich says.